Planning a "staycation" this year — a stay-at-home vacation? Take some tips from Washington Post reporter Andrea Sachs, who vacationed in our area recently. She praised the "35 miles of ivory beaches (that) trim the Pinellas Peninsula, a sun-drenched haven sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay." She volunteered making oyster domes for Tampa Bay Watch, then spent two days helping out at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. She loved beaching it at Fort De Soto. ("As soon as you set foot on the powder-soft sand, you feel calm.") Food faves included two Pass-a-Grille spots: Mozaic, 118 Eighth Ave., and Sea Critters Cafe, 2007 Pass-a-Grille Way.
Amusement lurks in a museum
Speaking of vacationing close to home, head to Tallahassee to see the current exhibit at the Tallahassee Museum, "A Picture of Health in Florida: 1830s-1930s." Learn about Florida in sickness and in health, from folk tradition to patent medicines and quack cures to scientific medical practices. Which was the right remedy for what ailed you: bleeding? physical fitness? dress reform? The exhibit includes early medical instruments, patent medicines, photographs and quotations. The exhibit runs through April 5. Details are at www. tallahasseemuseum.org.
Put future travel on layaway
Book now, play later. That's the advice from travel agents, who are already making reservations for Presidents Weekend in February and beyond. By locking in your plans now you may avoid surcharges for currency and fuel costs. As airlines cut flights and seats become scarce, prices will rise, so reserve now. And check the calendar. Traveling a few days earlier, in the off-season, can save you thousands over the identical trip a little later in high season.
The rules of the European road
Heading to Europe? Before you pick up your rental car, study The Essential Driving Guide . . . for Italy, France, or England, Scotland and Ireland ($14.95 each; Book Publishers Network). They're the first three installments in a projected series (Germany's due in the fall, with Spain and Portugal to follow). These slim volumes are full of must-have driving advice: local traffic laws, what the signs mean, guidance on how to negotiate the Autostrada or how to drive on the left. Author Orv Strandoo offers itineraries to popular and offbeat locations. He shares helpful insider tips: when to pay the toll or take the expensive water taxi; when to arrive to avoid the tour buses. The books are at bookstores, europedriveguide.com or amazon.com.
Welcome, four-footed travelers
The top five pet-friendly hotels, according to petside.com:
• James Hotel, Chicago
• W Tuscany, New York
• Hotel Monaco, Denver
• Bowen's by the Bay, Hampton Bays, N.Y.
• Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Los Angeles
Visit the Web site for the details of how each hotel will pamper Mr. Waggy or Miss Kitty and for a rundown of the best cars for pet owners to buy or rent.
Affordable New Orleans
Summertime in the Big Easy brings a lot of heat, but it also brings bargains at hotels and restaurants that are eager to attract visitors and show that New Orleans is coming back.
One example among many: The International House is offering rates starting at $79 a night in August. Rates are based on availability, and blackout dates apply. Specify the Red Hot Summer Special when booking. Contact toll-free 1-800-633-5770; www.ihhotel.com.
Some area restaurants are taking part in the COOLinary New Orleans celebration through Aug. 31. Three-course menus are available for $20 and under per person for lunch and $30 and under for dinner. The offer is available at 28 restaurants, including Bayona, Brennan's, Commander's Palace and Tujague's. Go to www.coolinaryneworleans.com.
Compiled from Times staff, wires